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  1. #1
    V.I.P. adiemus's Avatar
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    Default For the love of improvisation!

    I've danced in some form or another since I was little. I started by just moving, migrated to ballet for years, then jazz then improv and contact improv, now bellydance.
    Improv is something I absolutely LOVE - but (you knew there would be one!) - I have trouble sticking within a bellydance movement repertoire and so I end up getting 'stuck' and not flowing from one movement to another the way I want to, especially when someone's watching.
    I find myself wanting to put really well-learned movement combinations and transitions in from contact improv and it doesn't work.

    Has anyone else 'cross-trained' and have this problem? If you have, what have you done to overcome it? Or do you incorporate your 'other' dance form into your improv? Because it's driving me NUTS that I can't relax into the music as much as I really want to 'just in case' I end up bringing in these other movements!

    ...and I really love improvisation so much more than choregraphies!

  2. #2
    Moderator Shanazel's Avatar
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    I doubt my non-belly dance background is as broad or deep as yours, Bronnie, but I haven't had much trouble with, shall we say, cross pollenation except for some ballet-like turns and arms here and there. But- and it is a big but- I am an American Oriental dancer and can get away with it easier than someone studying one of the true middle eastern forms of belly dance.

    I do occasionally see students with this problem, usually Bob Fosse-style jazz students, for some reason. I can often tell women with ballet background from their posture, but the dedicated dancers have the ability to adapt to a new style without constantly turning their toes out .

    Samia Gamal's ballet background showed without being detrimental. Unless you are performing a traditional style for a knowledgeable audience, I'd say you're better off relaxing and just dancing instead of warping yourself with angst. For traditional styles, perhaps set up a video camera and improvise without worrying about cross-pollenation, then critique yourself later and decide what, if anything, you need to be wary of.

    I tell my belly dance students the same thing I tell my creative writing students: we all live with a creator and an editor in our heads. Both are useful in their place, but together they simply cause chaos. When you are creating (improv-ing), slam that editor in a trunk in the back of your mind and put a couple of heavy bedlahs on it. When you are done creating, if you want feedback and critique, put that sensitive creator in a furlined basket and likewise seal it shut for the duration of the editor's job. Let the editor critique the dance without being interupted by heartbroken wails from the creator.

    Do this enough and you'll smooth the rough spots out of your improv.

  3. #3
    V.I.P. PracticalDancer's Avatar
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    So, I have a different take on this; but, it made improvising much less terrifying.

    Many people think that improvising means going out there and completely making it up as you go along, with no preset notions of what you will do -- or, even what you will dance to. They associate it with "I don't know where I am or where I will go."

    After a lot of struggling and a few good teachers (thank you Johara, Scheherezade, and Najia!) I learned that improvising means that you have an idea of what you want to accomplish, but that you also have given yourself the flexibility to change course or have an adventure along the way. Then, it becomes "I know I want to go in that direction, and I can see three or four ways to get there. What should I choose?)

    Think about Jazz -- a musical style known for improv. In the majority of "good" jazz, there is improv, but it is wrapped in the song that is predetermined. "Rhapsody in Blue" is a known factor; but, it is where Marcus Roberts ragged it up that distinguished his improv from others' interpretations.

    Thus, improvising successfully boils down to knowing your options.

    So, you still need to know your music; or, at least the golden rule of fours.*

    After that, you should think about what you want to do. Beyond entrance, main body, and exit, there are feeling, imagery, and mood you may want to convey. You are telling your audience a story, even if it is a "choose your own adventure" one. CYOA's can be about pirates or princesses; what story do you want your dance to tell?

    Then, you need to have one or two combinations you know really well to fall back to. I tend to use these for the chorus.

    Next, you should have a few things "to play with" along the way. Here is where I can see you fitting in your other training, or challenging yourself with "more appropriate" moves. These are the combinations you want to explore, play with, sections of the music where you say, "I want to have some fun here." If our dance is about the mood over and above the technique (nod to Caroline), then focus more on what feelings you want to inspire and less on the steps to get there.

    Lastly, be comfortable using the steps that are second nature. These are the ones you do without thinking. The ones that you could do in your sleep -- little combos that create repetition, which equals comfort for you because you know what you are doing and comfort for your audience because their eyes see something familiar. (Gives them a chance to rest.)


    I hope this helps,

    Anala

    *The golden rule of fours is that in most middle eastern music, everything is based on a pattern of four. Phrases are repeated 4 times; and, the musician will change the phrase slightly in the 3rd or 4th phrase to signal the change. Once you learn this, you can take a piece of music you have never heard before and have a pretty good idea of when to prepare for a new twist in the song. Familiarity with maquamat comes next.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anala View Post

    Many people think that improvising means going out there and completely making it up as you go along, with no preset notions of what you will do -- or, even what you will dance to. They associate it with "I don't know where I am or where I will go."

    After a lot of struggling and a few good teachers (thank you Johara, Scheherezade, and Najia!) I learned that improvising means that you have an idea of what you want to accomplish, but that you also have given yourself the flexibility to change course or have an adventure along the way. Then, it becomes "I know I want to go in that direction, and I can see three or four ways to get there. What should I choose?)
    Indeedy. How can you improvise in something you have no solid foundation in? Well, it can be done to a degree, and being able to improvise is all part of self expression as much as anything else. When the movements are so entrenched in the muscle memory and the mind, then improv just flows. But I do believe that improv also has it's place with those less adept as a part of their growth and self expression and aid to confidence. Just being able to move to the music can be enough for starters. I encourage improvisation right from the very start with my students. I just believe that mastering improv starts in the head, as much as anywhere else. I know good technical students who struggle with improv purely because they were never encouraged to do it.

    Improvisation is about also letting go of your fears and inhibitions and the ego to some extent. Sure, a student must learn the movements, and once learned they kick in more readily for improv when needed, but this can be useless if a student has used choreography as a constant crutch in her training.

  5. #5
    V.I.P. adiemus's Avatar
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    Thanks for your thoughts! I have no problems with improvising at all, generally. If you put any piece of music on I'll find a way to move to it - it's much more about ensuring I leave out some of the movements that don't belong. For example, arabesque turns are something I used a lot in previous dance genres, and 'ballet arms' for want of a better word. I find myself wanting to incorporate jazz lunges and kicks and unless you're Randa or Samia Gamal, I don't think they fit!

    I liked the suggestion of leaving the critical editor out for a while - I do that with writing but had forgotten to do that for dance!

    As for the shape of the dance itself, that also doesn't bother me, I think it's really easy to hear this especially in, for example, beledi progression. What I mean by this is the 'beginning', 'middle' and 'end', and hearing the phrasing and pausing with them, and maquam changes.

    I hadn't thought of taking a previously choreographed dance and improvising parts of it, that could be a good way to remind myself of the movement vocabulary being used in that dance and build in it. The other way I've been doing it is using only one travelling movement, one smooth/flowy movement and one sharp movement then building on that with level changes, direction changes and shimmies - and as Ranya Renee says, allowing myself to get to the 'boring' stage with it and waiting a while to allow the movements to evolve instead of just adding in something.

    I'd love to keep hearing what others think and perhaps how often improvisation is performed rather than choreography?

  6. #6
    Member onela's Avatar
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    I struggle with the same. Looking forward to the start of a new term in a week so I can try to use what you guys have all posted in the thread Also, over the summer I took ATS lessons from my regular instructor and I think that generally helped.

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